I understand that the male members of the Council and our head, most likely, will not be interested in this event, so I appeal to the women who are members of the Council with a request to defend those who have been punished.
The female picketers are the only ones in our huge country who have shown solidarity with the real victims and those who will inevitably become victims.
The women involved in the picket in Moscow defended humanitarian values and were punished in Russia for doing this.
They have also been punished because the Presidential Human Rights Council did not protect them and their right to defend humanitarian solidarity.
I appeal to the female members of the Council to bring attention to what has happened and publicly protest the court’s decision.
Alexander Nikolaevich Sokurov
Thanks to Nikolai Boyarshinov and Elena Vilenskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Senator [sic] Lyudmila Narusova is outraged that solo pickets have still not been outlawed: “When I see marginal people near the Federation Council with incomprehensible demands that do not fit into any framework at all, it is unpleasant. You see, there are homeless-looking people with demands standing right on the steps of the Federation Council.”
Is this OK, Narusova?
Photo: Dasha Trofimova
The widow of Petersburg’s first democratically elected mayor, Lyudmila Narusova is not really a “senator,” but an appointed member of the Federation Council, representing (hilariously) Tuva. Federation Council members took to calling themselves “senators” several years ago and, unfortunately, their vain little trick has worked, because that is what the Russian press and chattering class now call them, unaccountably. Translated by the Russian Reader
When the Night Lanterns Sway: It’s Useless to Try and Beat the State on Its Own “Legal Turf”
Alexander Skobov Kasparov.ru
February 13, 2021
On February 9, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s network of local teams, announced a flash mob for February 14, Valentine’s Day: residents of large cities should go into their courtyards at 8 p.m. and turn on their mobile phone flashlights. This is an attempt to adopt Belarusian know-how [see the article, below]. The idea is that residents of the same yard who are sympathetic to the protest movement but don’t know each other can get acquainted and create a grassroots network for rapid notification and mobilization.
Putin’s occupation army has reacted hysterically to the undertaking. A yahoo from the Assembly for Approving the Cutie Pie Slutsky’s Sexual Harassment (colloquially known as the State Skank) compared the flashlights in the courtyards with the signals of saboteurs guiding German bombers to their targets. The Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office declared it a call for “mass rioting” and threatened potential flash mob participants with criminal charges. Roskomnadzor has been chasing down internet media officially operating in Russian Federation and forcing them to delete reports about the planned event.
Those who tried to defend the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution [“Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”] focused mainly on the third element and sluggishly butted heads with the authorities over the second element, while almost ignoring the first element. Meanwhile, it was all about the first element. The second and third elements were just an appendix to it.
The Code of Administrative Offenses contains an article that punishes involvement in unauthorized events. The shapes and features of this involvement are not described. They are listed in Federal Law No. 54 (“On Mass Events”). In particular, it says that at a mass public event, participants express their attitude to current socio-political problems by chanting slogans and holding up placards.
For many years, opposition activists have been looking for an “unauthorized” way to publicly voice their opinions that would not get them detained. For a long time, they unsuccessfully tried to prove in the courts that if they did not chant slogans and did not hold up placards, there was no protest rally as such. However, the list of ways of participating in a rally, as enumerated in Federal Law No. 54, is not exhaustive. That is, any way of voicing one’s stance is considered an indication of having participated in a public event. That is, expression of a position as such is considered “participation.”
The phrase “expressed [his/her] attitude to current socio-political problems” is often found in police reports on the arrest of people involved in unauthorized public events. The phrase sounds crazy and comical when it comes to legally justifying arresting people and charging them with administrative offenses. It was not invented by the police goons, however. It was borrowed from the definition of a protest rally contained in Federal Law No. 54.
In fact, this coinage, found in police reports and “court” rulings, expresses the collective unconscious of the bureaucratic police regime—its dream, its loftiest ideal. Ordinary citizens should not publicly voice their opinions on current socio-political issues. It is better for them not to have such opinions at all. Voicing opinions is the prerogative of the authorities.
Hence, the very fact that an ordinary citizen voices their socio-political position is considered an anomaly, a deviation from the norm, a violation of public order. And when you start arguing with the authorities at the police station or in “court,” asking them what socially dangerous or simply harmful actions were committed by a citizen who was detained for publicly expressing their position by attending an outdoor rally, they sincerely don’t understand what you are talking about. It is clear to them that publicly voicing a position itself is a socially harmful action if ever there was one.
Since (they say) the greatest geopolitical catastrophe happened, and we are now forced to temporarily recognize a citizen’s right to voice their position at least formally, we’ll load your opportunity to exercise this right with so many conditions that you’ll rue the day you tried to do it. And they really have been doing just this—purposefully, consistently, for the entire length of Putin’s rule.
The lawless authorities refuse to authorize opposition rallies at central and iconic locations under completely far-fetched and false pretexts, and our “managed” injustice system almost always takes the side of the authorities. On the other hand, the “legislators” in the State Skank seek to block any chance people have to publicly voice their stance without prior approval. As soon as the opposition finds a new way of protesting, enabling it to circumvent previously imposed bans, a new amendment or a new law immediately follows, sealing this loophole as well.
It is useless to try to win against the state on its own “legal turf” as long as it has the will and power to shut society up. The state’s will can be opposed only by society’s will not to obey anti-legal prohibitions. The point of unauthorized public events is that they demonstratively violate prohibitions on “unauthorized” expressions of one’s opinion.
I have already had occasion to write that prohibiting people from publicly expressing their attitude to current socio-political issues without permission is an important part of the system for manipulating the admission of players to the “political market.” The entire social and political system that has taken shape in Russia is based on this system of manipulation. In order to reliably guarantee citizens their constitutional right to freely express their attitude to socio-political issues peacefully and unarmed, we have to replace the entire socio-political system.
Translated by the Russian Reader
When the Night Lanterns Sing
When the night lanterns swing,
And it’s dangerous for you to walk the dark streets,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I can’t love anyone anymore.
The girls kissed my feet like they were crazy,
A widow and I drank through my father’s house.
And my cheeky laugh
Was always a success,
And my youth has cracked like a nut!
I sit on a bunk like a king at a birthday party,
And I dream of getting a drab ration.
I look out the window like an owl:
Now I don’t care!
I’m ready to put out my torch before anyone else.
When the night lanterns swing,
And the black cat runs down the street like the devil,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I’ve broken my lifetime record forever!
Lyrics by Gleb Gorbovsky. Source: a-pesni. Performance by Beseder and Lyonchik. Translated by the Russian Reader
A protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS. Courtesy of MBKh Media
Belarusian Courtyard Protests Model for Latest Navalny Tactic Window on Eurasia
February 13, 2021
Staunton, February 11 — The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.
In Belarusian cities, MBKh journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.
In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “squares of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flash mobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.
Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarusian Nasha Niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.
Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flash mobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.
The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off utilities where there are white-red-white flags.
Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.
“The register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent has been updated. On December 28, 2020, in compliance with the requirements of the current legislation of the Russian Federation, Darya Apahonchich, Denis Kamalyagin, Sergey Markelov, Lev Ponomarev, and Lyudmila Savitskaya were included in the register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Screenshot of Russian Justice Ministry website, 28 December 2020
Human Rights Activists Lev Ponomaryov and Four Other People Added to List of “Foreign Agents” OVD Info
December 28, 2020
For the first time, the Russian Ministry of Justice has placed individuals, including journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, on its registry of “[foreign] mass media acting as foreign agents,” as reflected on the ministry’s website.
Savitskaya, Markelov and Kamalyagin were probably placed on the registry of “foreign agents” due to their work with Radio Svoboda, which was placed on the registry of “foreign agents” in 2017.
In late December, the State Duma introduced and partly considered bills that would tighten the law on “foreign agents.” Thus, repeated violations of accountability under the law can now result in five years in prison. According to the new clarifications, the status of “foreign agent” can be granted to individuals engaged in political activities and receiving money for this work from abroad. Another bill would prohibit the dissemination of information in the media produced by foreign agents unless it is specially labelled.
Krylya Sovetov Goalkeeper to Be Punished for Unauthorized Interview in Which He Criticized Regime OVD Info
April 27, 2020
According to MBKh Media and the club’s website, the Samara football club Krylya Sovetov will take disciplinary action against goalkeeper Yevgeny Frolov for giving an interview not authorized by the club.
In an interview with football columnist Sergei Yegorov on the YouTube channel Futbolnyi Bigi, Frolov called the Russian president’s televised addresses “empty talk.”
In particular, the footballer said, “Like it or not, we won’t be getting anything—the regime will just blow us off.”
Prompted by media coverage, the club’s management issued a statement that it and the coaching staff do not share Frolov’s opinion.
“Recently, the federal and regional authorities have done a great deal to grow football in Samara Region and Russia,” it says in the statement.
According to team management, the new Samara Arena stadium “would not have been possible without the support of the senior leadership not only of the region but also the country.”
“By giving an interview without prior agreement with the club, [Frolov] violated the terms of his contract, harming the team’s interests. The player will be punished according to the club’s regulations on disciplinary actions, ” the statement reads.
Krylya Sovetov goalkeeper Yevgeny Frolov. Photo courtesy of Sport
On April 26, Yevgeny Frolov gave an interview to the YouTube channel Futbolnyi Bigi. In particular, he said that Russian authorities have not been helping ordinary citizens during the coronavirus pandemic and [and the ensuing economic] crisis.
“Like it or not, we won’t be getting anything—the regime will just blow us off. It will blow us off and say, ‘There’s no money, but hang in there.’ They have money for themselves, but they have nothing for people. Take America and Europe: in many countries, [the authorities] have been helping their citizens, helping business. There is none of that here in Russia. What the president says on TV is all empty talk. There is no real action at all,” said Frolov.
Lev Ponomaryov took part in the protest outside the FSB building. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service
Dozens of Activists Detained at Pickets Outside FSB Building on Lubyanka Square; Human Rights Activist Lev Ponomaryov Injured BBC Russian Service
March 14, 2020
Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights, was taken to hospital from a police station after being detained during a protest outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.
According to the 78-year-old Ponomaryov, police officers did not beat him, but treated him quite harshly.
“It would be more correct to say they roughed me up. I don’t remember the actual blow, but I do have a cut on my face. They grabbed me hard and dragged me,” he told the BBC Russian Service.
Earlier, news agency Interfax reported that, according to Ponomaryov, a detained activist who was next to him was beaten at the Tagansky police station.
“Me and another young me were dragged from the cell. I lost my hearing aid along the way. The kid got it worse, he was young. Maybe they were bashful about beating me,” the news agency quoted Ponomaryov as saying.
According to Ponomaryov, the police officers began acting roughly when all of the eleven detained activists, delivered to the Tagansky police station in the same paddy wagon, refused to enter the station one by one.
The activists joined hands. It was then, according to Ponomaryov, that the police began dragging the detainees forcibly into the station.
Police detained over forty activists during the protest on Lubyanka Square. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service
According to the human rights activist, the station commander watched it happened.
Ponomaryov said that he would probably petition the court to redress the needlessly harsh actions of the police and the beating of detainees.
A spokesperson for the Tagansky police station told the BBC Russian Service that they did not wish to comment on the situation with Lev Ponomaryov, since they had nothing to do with “what happened on the street.”
According to Ponomaryov, despite the fact that he demanded to see his lawyer, Vasily Kushnir, he was allowed to see him only an hour after arriving at the police department.
After the lawyer arrived, an ambulance was called for the human rights activist. The attending physicians decided to take him to hospital.
Later on Saturday, Ponomaryov told Interfax that he was not found to have a concussion.
“I was checked out at First City Hospital. They did a CT scan and said that everything was more or less normal, no brain damage occurred,” said Ponomaryov.
The human rights defender plans to document his injuries and file a lawsuit in connection with the beating, Interfax reports.
Marina Litvinovich, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police officers had violated the rights of both detained activists and public figures.
“Everything is bad here [at the Tagansky police department]. The police don’t let the laywers in, and they even used force, including against Ponomaryov, ” she told Interfax .
According to Lev Ponomaryov, police roughed up protesters when detaining them. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service
Alexei Melnikov, executive secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police at the Tverskoy District precinct also took a long time in allowing both lawyers and commission members to see detainees.
According to Melnikov, police officers refused to allow commission members to enter the building because, allegedly, they were not holding any detainees.
Ponomaryov was detained during solo pickets against political crackdowns. The protest took place outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square. Police detained over forty protesters.
Among those detained were opposition activists Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov. According to OVD Info, a minor who had been filming the proceedings was also detained. Police did not specify the reason for the minor’s arrest. According to OVD Info, he suffered an asthma attack in the paddy wagon.
According to Telegram channel Avtozak-LIVE, police broke journalist Fyodor Khudokormov’s equipment while detaining him.
I was at Lubyanka today during the rout of the pickets—pickets that hadn’t really started yet. First, police grabbed the people holding placards, but they quickly ran out, so then they grabbed people who were just standing there.
Everyone has been writing that it was a protest against “political crackdowns.” This is not quite true. I want to remind you that people came out under the slogan “We Are All in the Net(work).” The root cause and the reason people came was the Network Case in Penza and Petersburg. This is what causes such a brutal reaction among people in uniform. This was the reason why they got tough with Ponomaryov, nor was it the first time. When you sympathize with Ponomaryov, but say “there must be something” to the latest dirt about the Network, just put two and two together.
But the Network get clobbered every day. With the back of the hand. In the same way that people are beaten up in paddy wagons.
A month ago, I noticed this sneering expression on the faces of Russian National Guardsmen. It seemed to say, “You won’t do anything to us. Things will be our way. We do what we like.” The dogs have been given the command to attack.
Once upon a time, the danger and risk in men’s lives were considered the basis of their alleged superiority over women. Only those who walked the razor’s edge looked danger and even death in the face and were thus spiritually elevated.
“My body is my business.” Picketer at International Women’s Day protest in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem
When today, International Women’s Day, the Petersburg authorities have used the pretext of events that did not even take place, including the Shoulder to Lean On Festival, to prohibit women from publicly speaking out about the issues that matter to them in any way, all that remained for them was step onto their own razor’s edge and take to the streets, risking their own safety and freedom, and thus one more time (if someone has not heard the argument) assert that archaic segregation is unacceptable.
Because, under these circumstances, each step is a small victory. Among other things, it is a victory over oneself and one’s own fear. Each step is a reclaimed meter of urban space that should belong to people, but does not belong to them. It is a small step towards freedom, a step toward oneself — through the political, through the raucous intrusion into the chronotope of a spring day somewhere in the middle of an ugly regime. A small step into our common holiday. No one is free until everyone is free.
Photo reportage by AnFem
“On March 8, I think about women political prisoners, not spring.” Picketer at International Women’s Day protest in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem
Female Activists Hold Flash Mob Dance on the Field of Mars to Protest Violence Against Women; Pickets Held on Nevsky Prospect Bumaga
March 8, 2020
MBKh Media reports that a feminist protest rally has taken place on the Field of Mars during which female activists played drums and performed chants protesting violence against women.
The rally featured a dance flash mob. The girls [sic] chanted such lines, in particular, as “The patriarchy is a judge / that judges me for being born. / And my punishment is / violence day after day.” As MBKh Media reports, the Petersburg women borrowed the idea from Chilean feminists.
Feminist activists performing a flash mob dance and chant on the Field of Mars in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem
In addition, a series of pickets took place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya, reports the web publication Sever.Realii. The picketers protested domestic violence and the law against “promotion” of homosexual relations, and in support of female political prisoners. Protest organizers had originally planned a rally [on Lenin Square], but city authorities refused to sanction it.
Thanks to AnFem for the photos and the first text. Translated by the Russian Reader
The prosecutor had asked the court to sentence Lyubshin to six years and one month in prison. According to Chikov, Lyubshin and his defense lawyer, Tatyana Molokanova, had insisted on an acquittal. It took the judge two hours to return the verdict.
The court examined all witnesses and evidence in the case over a single day, March 4, without Lyubshin present. He told OVD Info that he was on sick leave, and had a doctor’s appointment that day, so he was forced to miss the court hearing.
The prosecution asked that the hearing be postponed until March 14 and Lyubshin’s attendance be assured through compulsory delivery of his person to the court. The defense asked for the same postponement, but objected to the prosecution’s motion for compulsory delivery.
Presiding Judge Alexei Grinev asked for a note from Lyubshin’s doctors to the effect that the defendant was physically unable to attend the court hearing. The doctors refused to give Lyubshin such a note, explaining that such notes were issued only at the court’s request.
The court ruled that the defendant has thus failed to appeared and postponed the hearing of the case until March 5. Lyubshin reported that the court also ruled that he be forcibly delivered to the hearing.
Lyubshin also reported that the FSB officers who were witnesses in his case left in the same car as the prosecutor after the hearing. In addition, one FSB officer, another witness in the case, tried to ask the doctors for details about Lyubshin’s illness. However, they only confirmed that Lyubshin was under their care.
In October 2019, Lyubshin was placed under house arrest on charges of “exonerating terrorism.” He claimed then that FSB officers who interrogated him had tortured him, but the Russian Investigative Committee declined to launch a criminal case against the security service officers in question. In late December 2019, Lyubshin was released on his own recognizance. In March 2019, after the partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code, the court dismissed incitement of hatred charges against Lyubshin for posts on VK. In November 2017, he was found guilty of inciting hatred (Article 282.1) and “exonerating Nazism” (Article 354.1.2) for posts on VK. He was sentenced to pay a fine of 400,000 rubles. Lyubshin was also accused of distributing pornography, but the court acquitted him.
This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.
It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?
Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.
“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”
We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:
“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”
How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?
For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.
“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva Republic
October 1, 2019
Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva faces up to seven years in prison for her published comments. In November of last year—first, in a broadcast on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov, then on the website Pskov Newswire—she discussed the reasons why a 17-year-old man blew himself up at the FSB office in Arkhangelsk. She has now been charged with publicly “condoning” terrorism, as punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
On October 1, Echo Moscow, Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, TV Rain, Takie Dela, Snob, MBKh Media, 7×7, Pskovskaya Guberniya, MOKH, Wonderzine, and Meduza published an open letter by Prokopieva. We have joined them in this act of solidarity.
My name (our name?) is Svetlana Prokopyeva. I am a journalist, and I could be sent to prison for seven years for “condoning” terrorism.
Nearly a year ago, there was a bomb blast in Arkhangelsk. It was unexpected and stunning: 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky blew himself up in the entrance to the FSB office there. Before he did this, he wrote he was blowing himself up because the FSB had become “brazen,” framing and torturing people.
The suicide bombing was the subject of my regular commentary on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. “Acting intentionally,” I wrote a text entitled “Crackdowns for the State.” My commentary was aired on November 7 and then was published on the website Pskov Newswire.
Nearly a month passed before Pskov Newswire and Echo of Moscow received warnings from Roskomnadzor: Russia’s quasi-censor saw evidence I had “condoned” terrorism in my comments. In early December, administrative charges were filed against the two media outlets, costing them 350,000 rubles in fines when a justice of the peace found them guilty of the charges. Simultaneously, the Pskov office of the Russian Investigative Committee launched an inquiry into whether I had personally violated Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Criminal prosecution loomed as a distinct possibility, but we laughed, thinking they must be crazy. What could they mean by “condoning” terrorism? In its warnings, Roskomnadzor failed to point to a single phrase or even word that would qualify as evidence that I had condoned terrorism. Nor could it point them out because they were not there. As it soon transpired, however, that did not matter.
On February 6, my doorbell rang. When I opened it, a dozen armed, helmeted men rushed in, pinning me to the wall in the far room with their shields. This was how I found out the authorities had, in fact, decided to file charges against me.
A police search is a disgusting, humiliating procedure. One group of strangers roots through your things while another group of strangers looks on indifferently. Old notes, receipts, and letters sent from other countries take on a suspicious, criminal tinge, demanding an explanation. The things you need the most, including your laptop and telephone, are turned into “physical evidence.” Your colleagues and family members are now liable to becoming “accomplices” without even trying.
I was robbed that day: the authorities confiscated three laptops, two telephones, a dictaphone, and flash drives. When they blocked my bank accounts six months later, they robbed me again: I was only a “suspect” when I was placed on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” and “terrorists.” I am now unable to get a bank card in my own name, open a savings account or apply for a mortgage. The Russian state has made it impossible for me to exist financially.
All that remained for the authorities was to rob me of the last thing I had: my freedom. On September 20, I was officially charged with violating Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code: condoning terrorism via the mass media. If convicted, I could be fined up to one million rubles or sent to prison for up to seven years.
I deny any wrongdoing. I consider the charges against me petty revenge on the part of security services officers offended by my remarks. I claimed they were responsible for the blast in Arkhangelsk. I wrote that the state’s crackdowns had generated a backlash: brutal law enforcement policies had embittered people. Since legal means of protesting had been blocked, the desire to protest had been pushed into such socially dangerous channels.
Publish this quotation from my text if you are not afraid.
“A strong state. A strong president, a strong governor. A country in which power belongs to strongmen.
“The Arkhangelsk suicide bomber’s generation has grown up in this atmosphere. They know it is forbidden to attend protest rallies: police can break up rallies or, worse, they can beat up protesters and then convict them of crimes. This generation knows that solo pickets are a punishable offense. They see that you can belong only to certain political parties without suffering for it and that you can voice only a certain range of opinions without fearing for your safety. This generation has been taught that you cannot find justice in court: judges will return the verdicts the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors want them to return.
“The long-term restriction of political and civic freedoms has given rise in Russia to a state that is not only devoid of liberty but oppressive, a state with which it is unsafe and scary to deal.”
This is what I still think. Moreover, in my opinion, the Russian state has only confirmed my arguments by charging me with a crime.
“Their only task is to punish, to prove someone’s guilt and convict them. The merest formal excuse is enough to drag someone into the grindstone of the legal system,” I wrote.
I did not condone terrorism. I analyzed the causes of the attack. I tried to understand why a young man who had his whole life ahead of him decided to commit a crime and kill himself. Perhaps my reconstruction of his motives was mistaken. I would be glad to be mistaken, but no one has proven I was. It is rather primitive and crude to charge someone with a crime rather than engaging in a discussion. It is like punching someone in the face for something theyon said.
It is a punch in the face of every journalist in our country.
It is impossible to know in advance what words in what order will tick off the strongmen. They have labeled the opinion I voiced a crime. They have turned someone who was just doing her job into a criminal.
Using the same rationale, you can cook up a criminal case based on any more or less critical text. You merely need to find so-called experts who will sign an “expert opinion” for police investigators. If you know this can happen, will you tackle thorny subjects as a journalist? Will you ask questions that are certain to irritate the authorities? Will you accuse high-ranking officials of crimes?
The criminal case against me is an attempt to murder free speech. Remembering how the authorities made an example of me, dozens and hundreds of other journalists will not dare tell the truth when it needs to be told.
Post updated on July 3, 2020.; Translated by the Russian Reader
Svetlana Prokopyeva outside the Pskov Regional Court in July 2020 by Ludmila Savitskaya (RFE/RL)